As the temperature drops and winter sets in, I enjoy the warmth of hearty soups. There are many I like, but few hit the spot like those made with Jerusalem artichokes.
Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sun chokes, root chokes or, as we call them at Nota Bene, J-chokes. The "Jerusalem" handle has nothing to do with the tuber's origins, but is a corruption of girasole, the Italian word for sunflower. The root vegetable is part of the sunflower family.
I enjoy working with J-chokes for many reasons, the chief being taste. Their sweetness is subtle and they have a fragrant nuttiness. Their lightness and subtlety make me think of them as being somehow feminine. Compared to the brutishness of other root vegetables (such as carrots or parsnips, which tend to overpower other flavours in a dish), Jerusalem artichokes have a sweet and comforting earthiness. Just as a woman is most beautiful with little makeup on, so is the J-choke at its best when its flavours are left to stand on their own.
Secondly, J-chokes also have superb resiliency. They can be kept in a cool, dry place for up to two weeks and aging them in this manner allows their sugars to mature, giving them more flavour.
Finally, I value the humble tuber for its versatility. It's amazing how many ways one can cook J-chokes. You can bake or fry them to create chips. You can boil them, roast them or serve them puréed. My favourite method is to cook them in water until they're falling apart and then make that velvety soup with them.
The recipe is as simple as it comes. I use four base ingredients: J-chokes, olive oil, parmesan cheese and truffles. Each is selected because of how it complements the others' flavours in perfect harmony.
David Lee is co-owner of Nota Bene in Toronto.
David Lee's Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Parmesan Chips
4 cups Jerusalem artichokes, peeled
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 ounce truffle, shaved
Place all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a rapid boil, stirring regularly. Reduce heat, cover with a lid and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bay leaf and clove, then mix in pot with an immersion blender.
Serve soup garnished with shaved truffle and one parmesan chip on the side.
1 teaspoon parmesan per chip, grated
Form a 3-inch circle of parmesan on a plate and put in a microwave oven. Microwave for 40 seconds or until melted and golden brown on top. Remove from plate while parmesan chip is still warm and place on another plate to cool.
Like most soups, this one is a fine foil for sherry. The depth of flavour would specifically lend itself nicely to amontillado sherry, whether dry or moderately sweet. Other options include white burgundy, such as an affordable Macon, particularly a slightly aged one if you have access to it. And while I'm not generally a fan of red wine with soup, the truffle and parmesan flavours here make for a good excuse to experiment with a dolcetto d'Alba or nebbiolo-based wine from Italy's Piedmont region.